The New York Times unveiled a new video series about Iran. Their Tehran bureau chief, Thomas Erdbrink, began the series with a brief look at what it’s like for him to live and work there:
My introduction to Anaïs Mitchell was her song “Why We Build the Wall,” part of the folk opera Hadestown (inspired by the myth of Orpheus and set in depression-era America). This song in particular jumped out and grabbed me when I first heard it — here’s the last section:
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none
And our work is never done
My children, my children
And the war is never won
The enemy is poverty
And the wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free
That’s why we build the wall
We build the wall to keep us free
We build the wall to keep us free
I later got to hear Anaïs on NPR singing from her album Young Man in America. I couldn’t stop thinking about the first song she sang, “Shepherd”:
I was thinking about her music today and decided to get her latest album, xoa. It’s a lovely solo album with some new and some older songs (including “Why We Build the Wall”) — my biggest challenge will be turning it off when I’m trying to work so I don’t get distracted by the beautiful lyrics.
When children are growing up, in any culture, their parents and other people in their lives teach them social norms and values by showing them how to behave and take part in social interactions. That process is called socialization. When someone teaches a child how to talk and express themselves, that’s called language socialization — and it isn’t just about learning new vocabulary.
Many cultures expect men and women to speak in different ways, according to expectations about their personalities or roles within society. (And this socialization also happens with other social categories, such as race or class.) In her article “10 Words Every Girl Should Learn,” Soraya Chemaly points out that men are socialized to dominate conversations, and this has no small effect on how women are heard (or not heard, really):
As adults, women’s speech is granted less authority and credibility. We aren’t thought of as able critics or as funny. Men speak more, more often, and longer than women in mixed groups (classrooms, boardrooms, legislative bodies, expert media commentary and, for obvious reasons religious institutions.) Indeed, in male-dominated problem solving groups including boards, committees and legislatures, men speak 75% more than women, with negative effects on decisions reached. That’s why, as researchers summed up, “Having a seat at the table is not the same as having a voice.”
I can certainly recall situations where a man repeated something I had said just moments before (and others clearly heard and responded to him more than to me). Where I was interrupted while trying to explain an idea. Where I felt the need to apologize for talking too much, even when I wasn’t. It can happen in nearly any context.
Sometimes I think I’m lucky to work in an environment where gender is somewhat obscured — that is, we communicate primarily via text, which highlights the words and ideas rather than the person saying them. But that idea, too, can be dangerous: our language socialization spills over into text, into how we phrase our ideas and perceive what others write. Stepping behind a keyboard doesn’t solve the problem.
The solution will come from socializing all young people in our society to speak confidently — and to listen carefully — no matter their gender, race, or class. And in the meantime, we can encourage those who might otherwise go unheard to speak up, and speak out against others who try to take away their voice.
Read more: 10 Words Every Girl Should Learn
The Happiness Lead at Automattic, Andrew Spittle, did a nice interview with Olark about how we approach engineering happiness for everyone who uses WordPress.com and other Automattic products:
Along with the larger overview of what we do, Andrew included this little tidbit describing what I think is one of the biggest challenges (but also biggest opportunities) in our work in the WordPress.com forums, where I spend the bulk of my time:
… a Happiness Engineer also does a little bit of qualitative customer feedback. We always get long public forum threads whenever we change something. It’s partly going back through those and picking out the highlights or the commonalities, and communicating those back to product teams.